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Written By Ink Free News / Sports on Friday, October 2, 2020

Kennedy Lauck, center celebrates as Warsaw knocked off NorthWood, 3-0, Thursday night to clinch at least a share of the Northern Lakes Conference volleyball title. InkFreeNews photos by Mike Deak

By Mike Deak

WARSAW – What a difference a day makes.

The sun rose Wednesday with the prospects of a premier showdown of undefeated Northern Lakes Conference volleyball powers. By mid-afternoon Thursday, much of the hype had dissipated and proved as such as Warsaw crushed a severely shorthanded NorthWood side, 3-0, Thursday night at the Tiger Den. The match, which barely lasted an hour, saw a final tally of 25-5, 25-11, 25-8.

News of another round of COVID-19 contact tracing at NorthWood made its way around by Thursday morning, which included three of the Panthers’ top players in Alea Minnich, Ali Knepp and Annika Bennett. The sudden change, which Warsaw knows all too well how it feels to lose major players to tracing, forced the Panthers into scramble mode.

“Usually not three in one day, right,” joked NorthWood head coach Hilary Laidig, trying to find any lighter way to put the team’s situation. “I told them, don’t think you don’t have a chance. The way our defense plays, I feel like that always gives us a shot at stuff. We came into tonight here to compete. Our kids are competitive kids.

“At the same time, though, you can only control what you can control.”

But with a conference championship on the line, Warsaw was all business in its quest to stay perfect. And it did so with its big guns firing at the net.

All-American candidate Kennedy Lauck looked as strong as she has all season, commanding the net against the Panthers. Lauck, honored Thursday in a Senior Day soirée, was a monster with a match-high 12 kills and four blocks. Not only were her kills effective, but she was almost perfect, only faulting on one of her 13 total attempts.

NorthWood’s Ella Gongwer takes a swing against Warsaw.

“She hit a .733 tonight so she had 12 kills and one error and that’s probably the most fun I’ve seen Kennedy have in a match in a long time,” said Warsaw head coach Chandra Hepler. “Full of smiles, full of energy. She was working hard and it was paying off. That was a lot of fun to watch her.”

Warsaw, which lost fellow All-American candidate Betty Barnett and back row specialist Kendra Love to the same tracing protocol earlier in the season, had Barnett add seven kills and two digs and Love four digs, an ace and an assist.

Kylie Smith had 22 digs and six assists and Avery Hales added 32 assists, six digs and four kills.

NorthWood struggled to get the 24 points it had. Without much of a rotation, which included seldom used Aaliyah Bonner and Hannah Chupp, there just wasn’t much rhythm in the generally well-oiled Panther approach.

Alana Lehman, who typically isn’t an every-play contributor to NorthWood’s frontline, was in for most of NorthWood’s three games and led the team with five kills. Ella Gongwer, who has had her moments but typically plays a complimentary role, was next with three kills. Kendal Miller had 11 assists and 11 digs, and Macy Lengacher was flying around the backline with 11 digs.

“Not a lot of time to figure out what we were going to do,” Laidig said. “I don’t ever want to put young JV kids in my program in a situation where they are in a six rotation against a good opponent. I tried to minimize the stress and the job they had to do.”

The win for Warsaw (20-8 overall) moves the Tigers to a 6-0 mark in the NLC with Concord left next Thursday. NorthWood (20-5, 5-1 NLC) isn’t completely out of the picture, though. If it can win at home next Thursday against Wawasee (1-5 NLC) and somehow coax Concord (2-4 NLC) into a win at the Tiger Den, the two teams would split the title.

“I do think we are peaking at the right time,” stated Hepler. “As we roll into the sectional draw and see where we sit for that and then be in the position where we are for taking the NLC against Concord next Thursday.”

The JV contest ended in matching 25-11 scores in favor of Warsaw.

The Tigers had Jael Namfukwe and Clara Porter combine for 11 kills and eight digs while Tessa Graney added 15 assists and two aces. Lauren Keck stepped up with 10 digs and Macie Knepp added 11 assists and seven digs for the Panthers.

Warsaw’s freshman team won 25-11, 25-9. Claire Reichenbach had 15 assists and five aces in the victory.

Posted In: Girl's Sports > Volleyball